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Java and JavaScript What's the Difference?

A web search shows hundreds of thousands of articles discussing the difference between Java and JavaScript. Most of these read much like my first set of notes for this article and talk about things like "object-oriented versus object-based" and "compiled versus interpreted." While factually correct, these classifications aren't that useful unless you are already familiar with programming language theory. If you are interested in learning to program, thinking about ways to add interactivity to your website, or otherwise just interested in results, then none of this is particularly useful.

So, what is important for beginners and non-technical people? The most important thing is knowing that Java and JavaScript are different languages. Both JavaScript and Java can run in a web browser. Both can be used to make more interactive web pages. JavaScript runs in in the browser itself and can affect how the entire web page, other web pages, and even the browser itself is displayed. Java runs as an something called an applet in a set portion of the web page. JavaScript pretty much only runs in a browser. A Java program can run pretty much anywhere in your web browser, on your computer without using the web browser, on a cell phone, and maybe even on your refrigerator! In Java you need to write an entire syntactically correct (grammatical) program. In JavaScript, you can insert a line or two into a web page and if is is correct, it will run. This can make learning the language and debugging (finding and fixing problems) easier for a beginner. On the other hand, for the advanced programmer, Java has tools that make debugging easier. A web designer or web programmer probably should know JavaScript. (The web programmer might also want to know Java and some other languages.) A general purpose programmer is probably better off learning Java, along with several other languages possibly including JavaScript.

If you are interested in learning to program, either language can be a good start and each programming language you learn makes it easier to learn further programming languages. If your interest is mainly in programming for the web, JavaScript is probably a better place to start but if you are more interested in Java or have better learning opportunities, go for it. If you are hiring someone to program for you, either language can be appropriate for a web application but the programmer should be able to tell you why they are using one language or the other.

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